ASU supply chain professor receives highest research honor

By

Shay Moser

New research from Scott Webster, the Bob Herberger Arizona Heritage Chair in Supply Chain Management, and his co-authors was awarded the 2017 Wickham Skinner Award by the Production and Operations Management Society (POMS) for the best paper published in 2016. 

The study, published in the Production and Operations Management journal, examines the impact of alternative interventions to stabilize the supply and price of artemisinin — the key ingredient in malaria medicine — to help save more lives.

"We initiated the work in response to concerns by the Gates Foundation and UNITAID about extreme artemisinin price volatility," Webster said.

The research shows that investments to improve yield, creating a support price for agricultural artemisinin, and a larger and carefully managed supply of semi-synthetic artemisinin have the greatest potential. But implementing these findings won’t be easy.

Malaria drug meets market resistance

“Containing malaria requires prevention and treatment,” Webster said. “In the area of malaria treatment, one of the main concerns today is assuring enough supply of artemisinin of sufficient quality and at stable prices.” Expansion of semi-synthetic artemisinin has been lower than expected for a few reasons, including an unfavorable cost differential compared to the plant-based compound.

In general, challenges in the artemisinin supply chain are reasonably well in hand at this point, as prices have been relatively stable and low, according to Webster. “The down side is that due to meager prices, Artemisia annua farmers may exit the market shortly, leading to a spike in prices.”

A certification program for artemisinin suppliers has recently been implemented by the Global Fund to help assure quality, said Webster, with some large buyers only purchasing from certified suppliers under long-term contracts. “However, other large buyers haven't committed to using certified providers or long-term contracts,” he explained. “There is some concern about whether the different approaches by large players may have adverse effects on the artemisinin market.”

Researchers explore other supply capacity options

Webster and his co-authors are doing preliminary investigations on other ways to enhance supply capacity to improve the availability of medicines in developing markets. “We are exploring different mechanisms that organizations such as the UK government and Gates Foundation may use to spur investment in production capacity by pharmaceutical firms for supplying medicines to lesser developed countries.”

Co-authors of the research are Prashant Yadav visiting scholar at Harvard Medical School, and Burak Kazaz, the Steven R. Becker Professor of Supply Chain Management, the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence, and executive director of the H.H. Franklin Center for Supply Chain Management.

Study makes notable contribution to society

“The Wickham Skinner Awards are intended to encourage POM scholarship and publication, to promote significant research in the field, to reward academics who have achieved unusually high accomplishment early in their careers, and to facilitate the sharing of innovative new ideas about teaching POM,” according to the POMS.

Webster and his co-authors’ study titled, “Interventions for an Artemisinin-based Malaria Medicine Supply Chain,” met the criterion to earn the 2017 Wickham Skinner Award. But just as important, the socially responsible research shows that funds to increase yield, establishing a support price for agricultural artemisinin, and a bigger and judiciously managed supply of semi-synthetic artemisinin have the most promise — the most promise to take a bite out of the estimated 212 million malaria cases and some 429,000 malaria deaths in 2015 (World Health Organization).